K-9 Officer Ruger, at your service
Officers Wells and Ruger have been working together as a team for almost five years.
Photos by Mike Lauterborn
Police officers don’t usually go home with each other at the end of a shift, unless they are a K-9 Unit, like Fairfield Police Officer Kevin Wells and his trusty, four-legged sidekick, Ruger. Their collaboration extends beyond the beat. It’s a commitment for life.
Wells had always had dogs growing up and an interest in being a handler, so when the department decided in 2010 to initiate a K-9 program and the position became available, he stepped up. It was a “huge” decision for him, but ultimately delivered an experience that was beyond his hopes.
It was no small decision for the department either. It was determined that the first year of the partnership would cost around $20,000, which would need to be raised through private donations, to cover the purchase of the dog, training for both the dog and officer, veterinarian bills, equipment, dog food, and even X-rays to confirm that the dog was physically fit for duty.
But there was no question it was an investment that needed to be made. It had been about 30 years since the department had last had a canine officer—Zak, a 106-pound white German shepherd that served as a patrol dog, mostly used for tracking. Since Zak’s retirement, the department had to rely on other regional departments, from Milford to Stamford, and availability was frequently an issue.
Thanks to contributions from a large number of citizens and companies like Sturm, Ruger & Co., and General Electric, the acqui-
sition of a certain 16-month-old German shepherd, imported from the Czech Republic, was realized in 2011. Dubbed Ruger after the firearms maker, the new canine hire was paired with Wells and the two were immersed in an immediate bonding process. “The dog was initially crated except for needing the bathroom, eating, or training, to create structure and so he would understand I’m his master,” Wells explains.
Ruger was conditioned for narcotics searches and the tracking of missing people, children, elderly persons with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and to locate suspects from shoplifters to murderers. “While his role is very important, he just perceives everything like play and games,” Wells notes.
About the breed, Wells says, “German shepherds are very popular for police canine work, because of the narcotics and tracking, but also for suspect apprehension, handler protection, building searches, and evidence recovery,” Wells says. “They have an excellent sense of smell and are very intelligent, fast, and strong. They are a tool to assist the police department. On one occasion, he detected two packages containing 24 pounds of marijuana. They were expertly wrapped, to try and throw off his scent.”
How effective has Ruger been? Just in the past two years, he has performed over 175 narcotics searches with over 50 percent resulting in arrests, 55 tracks for suspects, 15 tracks for missing persons, 77 responses to burglar alarms, 77 miscellaneous responses (building searches, fights, crowd control), and 47 mutual-aid responses to other towns and state police.
Ruger has also participated in 25 canine demonstrations. “The perception is often that police dogs are mean and aggressive, but the reality is they only react on command,” says Wells. “One of the first things we did when Ruger came aboard was to introduce him to the community, like at schools, local events, and even campgrounds.”
But when Ruger is “on the job,” he’s really on the job. “On our first day together, I picked up a LoJack signal and found the car at the I-95 rest stop. The situation ended up in a high-speed chase and the car crashed in Westport. The suspect fled on foot; Ruger was used for tracking, and the suspect, wanted for murder, was apprehended,” Wells explains.
Ruger and Wells train 30 minutes per day, five days per week. If they are off duty, they still must respond if they are needed, even if it’s the middle of the night. Ruger wears a bulletproof vest while Wells wears a remote that allows him to open their vehicle door and release the dog to assist him if required. The patrol vehicle also has a “Hot & Pop” system wherein an alarm sounds and the windows go down if it gets too hot inside.
Reflecting on the special partnership with Ruger, Wells wouldn’t swap places with anyone. “Your entire life changes when you become a handler,” Wells says. Sadly, Ruger now has a medical issue and there’s a chance he may retire. “The department is excited about its plans to expand the K-9 program to two dogs in the very near future,” Wells adds.